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The 2022 Iowa State Fair lacked political fireworks, had a lopsided soapbox and a stormy visit from Mike Pence

Former Vice President Mike Pence (left) takes questions from reporters alongside Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines on August 19, 2022.
Clay Masters
Former Vice President Mike Pence (right) takes questions from reporters alongside Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines on Friday.

Iowa's elected Republicans went to the State Fair but skipped the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox while all the Democrats running took turns behind the microphone.

“We got a little soaked out there!” former Vice President Mike Pence told friendly fairgoers in the Varied Industries building at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines on Friday. Pence and his fellow Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley, took cover from a thunderstorm that quickly developed and soaked the fairgrounds.

“I'm in Iowa for one reason and one reason only,” Pence told a cluster of reporters as storm clouds started rolling in over the Midway. “And that is that Iowa and America need six more years of Sen. Chuck Grassley.”

A visit to the Iowa state fairgrounds has been a long tradition for politicians eyeing a run for the White House, but there was not a lot of that activity during the 11-day run of the 2022 state fair.

Trump’s 2024 decision created a bit of a chilling effect on presidential hopefuls coming to the fair

Former President Donald Trump’s potential run again in 2024 has not prevented other Republicans from making trips to the state this year. With Trump maintaining strong support from his party in Iowa, those potential candidates are making clear in their remarks they’re here to help local candidates fundraise.

Pence was greeted with cheers and applause, and a few boos, as he strolled the concourse on Friday. Janet Gastineau of Urbandale waited to shake his hand and told IPR the Republican Party should be done with Donald Trump.

“I love the way he handled things on Jan. 6,” Gastineau said. “He wasn't willing to go that extra step that Trump wanted him to do for that election.”

Pence also spent the weekend at other fundraisers in the state for Sen. Grassley. Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan also made a less flashy appearance, taking a turn flipping pork chops with Gov. Kim Reynolds at the fair. Texas senator and 2016 caucus-winner Ted Cruz spoke at a Grassley fundraiser last week far away from the fairgrounds in Des Moines.

The start of the fair coincided with an Iowa Republican Party fundraiser focused on Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status where RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel was the featured speaker. The Democratic National Committe has been discussing reworking its early calendar all year and is expected to announce changes after the midterm election.

Republicans largely skipped the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox this year

The Des Moines Register’s Political Soapbox is a popular place for politicians to make their pitch to voters who are not politically engaged. It’s not as big of a draw during midterm years. Iowa’s top-elected Republicans, like Sen. Grassley and Gov. Reynolds, did not take turns on the soapbox this year while the three statewide elected Democrats did. Republicans seeking to unseat Democrats did take a turn on the stage.

Iowa’s State Auditor Rob Sand, a Democrat, touted his senior leadership team that is made up of a Democrat, a Republican, and an independent.

“I don’t want a conversation where everyone is looking at something from the same angle trying to decide what it is,” Sand said during his time at the soapbox. “I want a conversation where people are having difference perspectives that they’re sharing with me so we can make sure we’re looking at something from every angle.”

U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne is the only Democratic member of Iowa’s congressional delegation and promoted the Inflation Reduction Act to voters the day after President Joe Biden signed it.

Axne is the only member of Iowa’s congressional delegation who voted for the Inflation Reduction Act.

You wouldn’t know Gov. Reynolds has a Democratic opponent in November

Gov. Kim Reynolds’s social media accounts featured a lot of photos of her at the state fair but she did not use the Des Moines Register’s soapbox as an opportunity to contrast herself to her Democratic opponent Deidre DeJear. Reynolds has a large fundraising advantage and the latest Iowa Poll shows her with a 17-point lead.

Reynolds pointed her criticism to the Biden administration during her remarks at the Republican Party of Iowa’s Lincoln Dinner before participating in the opening parade of the state fair.

“This administration has unleashed the (Department of Justice and) the FBI on parents, on taxpayers, on gun owners and a former president of the United States of America,” Reynolds said at at the Lincoln Day fundraiser on the opening day of the fair. “We are at an all-time low, folks. Elections matter.”

DeJear used her time on the soapbox to say Reynolds is starving the education and health systems while more than a billion dollars sits in a trust fund.

IPR's Katarina Sostaric, Grant Gerlock and Michael Leland contributed to this report

Clay Masters is the senior politics reporter for MPR News.